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Eritrea Accuses Sudan of Illegal Detentions - 2004-01-16

Eritrea says Sudanese officials are illegally detaining nearly a dozen of its citizens and have closed community centers used by Eritreans in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. The accusation is the latest twist in deteriorating relations between the two East African neighbors.

An Eritrean government spokesman, Yemane Gebremeskel, says Sudanese officials in Khartoum conducted a sweep two days ago in the city, targeting Eritrean citizens.

"Khartoum has arrested, I think, 10 Eritreans," he said. "They closed the community centers and arrested the people there. These are community centers registered legally."

As many as 300,000 Eritreans live in Sudan. Some of them are long-time residents, having arrived shortly after Eritrea began its fight for independence from Ethiopia more than three decades ago.

The Sudanese government has not commented on the charges by the government in Asmara.

If true, regional observers say the incident could be in retaliation for what Sudan calls ongoing and deliberate Eritrean backing and financing of rebel activities in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Earlier this month, the government in Khartoum complained to the U.N. Security Council that Eritrea was arming and training rebels in Darfur. Eritrea denies the allegations are baseless and accuses Sudan of trying to find scapegoats for its own internal problems.

Rebels in Darfur launched a revolt nearly a year ago, accusing the Sudanese government of marginalizing the remote area. Sudanese officials view the rebellion as a security threat and have vowed to crush it.

Fighting in recent months between the rebels and Arab government-allied militias has killed thousands of people and have prompted hundreds of thousands more to flee their homes.